The project groups of the 2013/2014 Emerging Wildlife Conservation Leaders class have been busy working on their species conservation projects. The Freshwater Turtle Team is working to reduce mortality from entanglement with fishing nets in areas with high densities of endangered freshwater turtles in India. Working with partner groups Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA) and the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, EWCL’s turtle group is working to identify alternative types of fishing nets, raise funds to obtain and deploy those nets, and monitor their success.
The group is focusing on eight sites in the Ghaghra and Sarju rivers in northern India’s Tarai region and two sites in the Yamuna River near Chambal River Sanctuary. They are conducting both in-person and telephone conversations with specialists, researchers and academics to identify the most effective, and non-lethal, nets for various fishing practices and water conditions. The team’s goal is to purchase and ship 20 nets to India, as well as develop guidance and recommendations on use of nets and necessary modifications to reduce turtle mortality. TSA will conduct tests and work with the team to modify the nets as necessary. Assuming the nets reduce turtle bycatch substantially, the team will assist TSA in planning and holding workshops to teach villagers to use, and ideally make, turtle-safe nets.
EWCL’s Giant Armadillo Team is working on a very under-studied species. However, these ant and termite eaters are known to be an important “ecosystem engineer” and an indicator species for ecosystem health. They are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and have experienced a 30% decline in recent years.
Working with partner group Pantanal Giant Armadillo Project, which is conducting the first long-term study of the species in their native Brazil, the team’s goal is to get this “weird and wonderful” animal the attention it deserves in order to foster more conservation measures for the species. They are taking a two-pronged approach, a media campaign centered around the 2014 FIFA World cup being held in Brazil, and developing materials for zoos in North America, South America and Europe to help build awareness of this important animal.
The Snow Leopard Team is also working to raise awareness of a beautiful, but also little-known, species. Residing in Asia’s high mountains, the charismatic but endangered snow leopard has the potential to generate significant interest in their conservation status and threats to their survival. Some threats to snow leopards, including climate change, are shared by other high mountain habitat species. Snow leopards are also threatened by poaching, and habitat and prey loss.
Partnering with the World Wildlife Fund, the Snow Leopard Trust and the Snow Leopard Conservation Fund, the EWCL team’s project goals are to address the conservation needs through both a U.S.-based fundraising and public awareness campaign as well as an education and outreach campaign in Mongolia. The U.S. campaign, “Climbing for Snow Leopards,” is comprised of education events at climbing gyms nationwide. The team has created beautiful posters of snow leopards and climbers and are planning and holding events that will provide the general public with information about snow leopards and how they can help. The team is also working to raise awareness among Mongolia’s youth by developing teacher training materials and a curriculum for a five-day summer camp for Mongolian students. The team is supplying the camp with education and camping materials required for key lessons on snow leopards.
With only 3,000 to 5,000 left in the wild, another endangered species being assisted by this year’s EWCL students is the African Painted Dog. Major threats to this species include habitat fragmentation, infectious diseases, conflicts with livestock owners, and incidental killings from snares and cars. The African Painted Dog Team’s goal is to reduce the threats of human-induced fatalities and injuries, particularly from snares and vehicle collisions, in the dog population in around Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. They are also working to increase international awareness of painted dog conservation needs.
To achieve these goals, the team has been working on a design, production and testing of collars that will help protect dogs from snares, as well as organizing a Painted Dog Day zoo event around the United States. Working with partner group Painted Dog Conservation (PDC), the group has been busy developing various designs of collars that the wild dogs would wear to help protect them from snares. The collars contain a clip to contain the snare on the collar and allow the dog to break the wire as they struggle. The group is deploying ten collars in a pilot study, and after testing and any adjustments plan to deploy 100 collars. They team is simultaneously developing educational materials, interactive activities and painted dog items for sale for their North American Painted Dog Zoo Day. They are working with many zoos to plan this fun and informational event.